There have been many contributors as the Dallas Cowboys have built a 5-1 record over the first the six weeks of 2021. But some certainly have stood out more than others, and the bye week gives us a chance to look back and reflect on who's really shined during this strong start to 2021.
With the league's top offense so far in 2021, you could talk about a lot of players as standouts so far this season. Even backups like RB Tony Pollard and WR Cedrick Wilson have been critical to Dallas' success thus far.
While they didn't make this top-five list, WR Amari Cooper and TE Dalton Schultz certainly deserve honorable mentions. They have had great seasons thus far and both are on pace for over 1,000 yards and near double-digits in touchdowns.
So yes, plenty of guys should be proud of their contributions so far. But who've been the brightest stars?
5. OT Tyron Smith
After missing 14 games in 2020 and having neck surgery, Tyron's returned and is back to being one of the best offensive tackles in football. Smith's been among the top-graded tackles every week, helping restore order on the offensive line after the many woes of last year.
With Tyron protecting him, Dak Prescott has been able make some big plays in crucial moments. Dallas has one of the best 3rd-down conversion rates in the league right now and a big reason for that is Dak's ability to sit in the pocket, even on 3rd-and-longs, and not have to worry too much about his blind side.
Smith's successful return in 2021 has been especially critical due to La'el Collins' five-game suspension. With Collins out from Weeks 2-6, stability on that left side has kept the offensive line solvent even with Terence Steele taking over.
4. WR CeeDee Lamb
Statistically, Lamb is now WR1 for the Cowboys. He's leading the team in targets, receptions, and receiving yards while being tied for with Amari Cooper in touchdown catches.
Standing out in this passing game isn't easy but CeeDee's managed to outpace his teammates in targets. His biggest play of the year was his last one; the game-winning touchdown that lifted Dallas over New England in overtime.
The Cowboys continue to look for ways to get the ball in Lamb's hands. He's returned three punts, one for 17 yards, and also taken four carries in Kellen Moore's creative scheme.
The scariest thing about CeeDee is that he still has room to grow. There are a still a few drops he'd love to have back, plus his chemistry with Dak Prescott isn't quite as good as we've seen with Cooper and Michael Gallup.
That said, Lamb's still living up to the #88 legacy. And like the ones who came before him, he's a star and key player on this offense.
3. RB Ezekiel Elliott
Reports of Zeke's demise were clearly premature. After a rough 2020 season without a solid offensive line or passing game, Elliott was stifled in ways we'd never seen before. But the restoration of quality teammates, and an admitted re-dedication to his craft this offseason, have Zeke back among the NFL's top rushers.
While his overall production is stifled a bit by Tony Pollard's increase role, Elliott's value comes in key moments and the dirty work. He grinds out tough yardage and makes adjustments mid-play to turn nothings into somethings. He's also been a willing and proficient blocker and even played fullback at times.
We may never see Elliott get back to the statistical production levels from 2016-2018 but that's not a bad thing. The reduced touches will prolong his career and keep him fresher for those key moments in games.
That's been the secret sauce for Dallas so far in 2021. They've been winning more of those big moments in games than in past seasons and that's often a matter of special talent prevailing. Whether it's with his superior vision and athleticism on a run, or making a critical block to keep Dak upright, Elliott has come up big plenty of times already this year.
2. G Zack Martin
We're so used to Martin's dominance that it's easy to take him for granted. But his value can't be overestimated; Zack's absence in Week 1 due to COVID-19 is probably the main reason Dallas isn't 6-0 right now.
Once Martin returned in Week 2 the Cowboys were able to restore a balanced offensive approach. And individually, Zack's grading out as the best guard in the NFL and Dallas' top performer overall.
Martin's anchoring of the offensive line's right side has never been more important than in 2021. He's had a second-year player on each side of him in C Tyler Biadasz and RT Terence Steele for most of the season.
As he has since 2014, Zack's presence has made everyone around him better. After missing six games last year, he's quickly reestablished his greatness and doesn't appear to have lost a step.
1. QB Dak Prescott
Big surprise, I know. You're really splitting hairs between Prescott and Martin in the top two but the responsibility and pressure that Dak regularly handles as QB1 is the tiebreaker.
We already knew that Prescott was capable of this statistical output after the fives game he played in 2020. Dak was on a record-breaking pace in passing yardage before his season-ending injury.
Prescott isn't threatening to hit 6,000 yards in 2021 but that's okay. The Cowboys' offense is far more efficient and dangerous now with a potent rushing attack complimenting the passing game. The balance has been key to Dallas' five-game winning streak.
Dak's leadership on the field and beyond is just as critical. He's executing as well as any QB in football and making the big plays when needed to keep the Cowboys winning. His personality is seen throughout the roster now as this team's determination and comradery are sky high.
Even if Prescott doesn't eventually win the NFL's Most Valuable Player awards, there's no question who the MVP is for Dallas in 2021.